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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

I just got over a bad habit. I don't want to use the term "addiction," because I'm not really sure what that term means.

"Almost everything you know about heroin addiction is wrong. Not only is it wrong, but it is obviously wrong. Heroin is not highly addictive; withdrawal from it is not medically serious; addicts do not become criminals to feed their habit; addicts do not need any medical assistance to stop taking heroin; and contrary to received wisdom, heroin addiction most certainly is a moral or spiritual problem."
  - Theodore Dalrymple, Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy

I know that my mother, after smoking for more than 50 years one day just gave up cigarettes, no patch, no gum, no fuss, no bother. But it's not fair to compare ordinary people to my mother.

I also know that orthodox Jewish men, who smoke, give up cigarettes every week for the Sabbath (when for 25 hours kindling fires is prohibited), and this also without bother or, at least in the days before nicotine gum, aid. This power of religion seems to confirm Dalrymple's conviction that addiction is a moral or spiritual problem.

That LSD helps to treat alcoholism (Nature magazine) also confirms that expanding one's consciousness is the solution to the problem of addiction.

When I say that some people are addicted to marijuana, some to food, some to making money, I use the term in the loose, non-clinical sense, out of favor with people who are earning their living treating "addicts." I mean that these people have a habit, a bad habit, a habit that prejudices their view of life and limits their freedom.

A very rich man, a billionaire back when a billion was still a billion, when asked why he kept working so hard at making money, replied, "I've forgotten how to do everything else." My brief, junior high school acquaintance with his son certainly made it seem that he had forgotten how to be a father.

The ancient Greek philosophy of hedonism considers contentment or cheerfulness the goal of life. In the sixties we called this "the pleasure principle." The matter of philosophy comes in when we consider what brings pleasure. Staying in bed seems more pleasurable than getting up and going to work until you are evicted for not paying the rent. Did the aforementioned billionaire gain more pleasure adding money to his already enormous fortune than he lost from watching his son suffer?

Few of us consciously act to hurt ourselves. The addict believes that the substance or activity that they crave is the thing that will make their life better. The over-eater blisses out when their mouth is full. The alcoholic feels good with a drink in hand. Sometimes I tease total strangers as they walk across a social scene with a drink in each hand, chiding them, "You've got your supply covered." If they explain that one drink is for someone else, I carry on by giving them a complicit wink and nod along with a cynical, "Sure. I understand."

But enough of this denial, my beating around the bush, the favored tactic of the addict. What is the habit I have so recently overcome? In a word, women.

Sex? Well, sex was a part of it, a big part. Sex was a way of possessing the woman, of being sure I really had her attention. A sexual, romantic relationship insured me access to the woman, gave us a reason to get together. Romance? Oh, yes. I could romanticize with the best of them. Fantasizing sows' ears into silk purses was my stock and trade.

I guess, like most Jewish sons I have to blame my mother.

Three elderly Jewish women are discussing the kids. One brags, "My son just bought me a new convertible." The others respond with oos and ahs. The second boasts, "My son just bought me a new condominium." More oos and ahs. The last declares, "My son goes to the most expensive psychiatrist in Manhattan and all he talks about is me."

I tried and failed to have a relationship with Mom and spent the rest of my life acting out this primal trauma, trying to have emotional relationships with women who were unavailable for emotional relationships, and eschewing those who were. "Girl crazy," Dad called it.

My recovery has been a long process. I recognized my addiction long ago, but couldn't stop the behavior; entering in, struggling in and being disappointed by relationships. As I misheard Jim Morrison, "Now, I'm so alone just looking for a home in every face I see." (Universal Mind) Then, I stopped the behavior, but the urge remained. Then, something happened. Calling it a "healing" falls back into the same clinical jargon I rejected in my definition of the word "addiction." I prefer, following Dalrymple, to call it a moral or spiritual epiphany.

A short stretch of my daily bicycle ride encapsulates the change: A few weeks ago, at the end of my route, turning off the Ancha onto Callejon San Antonio (across from Cardo) I noticed an attractive woman in a casual long flowing dress walking her dog. Moments later on the plaza in front of the Church of San Antonio I observed a young, petit woman all dolled up in a short, tight skirt coming along my path. Then, just only some few seconds after that, just past Pronto Pizza on Calle Heroes, I passed a pretty, taller Mexican woman, basic, without makeup or other adornment. A minute later, in front of my house, I realized I was just teasing myself, imagining three such different women as the "special one." I thought, if any one will do, then why not the one I have?

And, of course, the truth is, not anyone will do. My girlfriend, Veronica and I have a lot in common. It's easy to spend time together. And now that I have withdrawn my attention from every passing fancy, I find her more attractive; I'm more turned on by her, beautiful, loving woman that she is. I am more able to accept the abundance that is around me, including better, more fulfilling relationships with other women, who I am not seeing in such dire terms anymore. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, "I have arrived."

All that is very good. All this contentment, satisfaction and peace is certainly a great relief, a hedonistic pleasure, in the true sense of the word. But it is strange, looking at pretty women now and seeing them not as my salvation, but as ordinary people. Yes, I keep looking. My mother kept her last, unfinished pack of cigarettes in her dresser draw for twenty years. For a similar reason, I keep looking.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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